Steve Canyon: Wikis


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Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon (November 17, 1963)

Steve Canyon was a long-running American adventure comic strip by writer-artist Milton Caniff. Launched shortly after Caniff retired from his previous strip, Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon ran from January 13, 1947 until June 4, 1988, shortly after Caniff's death. Caniff won the Reuben Award for the strip in 1971.



By 1946, Caniff had developed a worldwide reputation for his syndicated Terry and the Pirates. However, the rights for the strip he had created, written and drawn (for Chicago Tribune newspaper syndicate editor Captain Joseph Patterson), were entirely owned by the syndicate. Seeking creative control, Caniff approached the Chicago Sun-Times with the idea of a new strip on which he could retain ownership. The last Caniff episode of Terry and the Pirates appeared in December 1946, and then George Wunder took over the strip. Caniff's new strip, Steve Canyon, debuted in 168 newspapers.

Many strip creators before and since employ uncredited assistants or ghost artists, and Caniff was no exception. In 1952, he hired comic book artist Dick Rockwell (nephew of famed illustrator Norman Rockwell) as his assistant. While Caniff scripted and drew the main characters, Rockwell penciled and inked secondary characters and backgrounds. Rockwell continued on Canyon until Caniff's death on May 3, 1988.[1][2]

Milton Caniff with Carol Ohmart, the model for Copper Calhoun in 1947.

The last syndicated Steve Canyon strip was a tribute to Caniff in two panels, one drawn by legendary cartoonist Bill Mauldin, the other containing the signatures of 78 fellow cartoonists.

On June 23, 1997, an authorized 50th anniversary Steve Canyon strip was published by the Air Force Times, a civilian weekly newspaper covering the United States Air Force. Steve Canyon and the U.S. Air Force having been created the same year, the shared anniversary was celebrated with Steve Canyon appearing as part of a 96-page insert, The First Fifty Years: U.S. Air Force 1947-1997. Drawn in the style of a Sunday strip, the story and art for this commemorative were provided by Air Force Master Sergeant Russ Maheras, with coloring by Carl Gafford. On Monday, September 24, 2007, Air Force Times published a 60th anniversary Steve Canyon strip by Maheras.[3] The color, Sunday-style strip depicts Brigadier General Steve Canyon in Afghanistan, investigating Taliban activity.[4]

Characters and story

Steve Canyon was an easygoing adventurer with a soft heart. Originally a veteran running his own air-transport business, the character returned to the U.S. Air Force during the Korean war and stayed in the military for the remainder of the strip's run.

Initially, his buddies were fellow veterans, and romantic interest was provided by Copper Calhoon, a kind of capitalist version of the popular Dragon Lady character Caniff had created for Terry and the Pirates. Eventually, Canyon developed a sometime-sidekick in crotchety millionaire adventurer Happy Easter, along with a permanent love interest in Summer Olson, Calhoon's private secretary. General Philerie was based on legendary World War II hero Phil Cochran, who came from Erie, as noted in the character's name (Phil-Erie). Cochran had been the model for Flip Corkin from Terry and the Pirates and Canyon included a Terry-like major character called Reed Kimberley.

Caniff was intensely patriotic, and with Canyon's return to the military, the story began to revolve around Cold War intrigue and the responsibilities of American citizens. Despite this shift in tone, Caniff was able to maintain the picaresque quality of his globally-set stories.


Steve Canyon as it was seen in Chile

Caniff was famous for colorful villains and intriguing female characters, such as Madame Lynx and the lovely exiled ruler, Princess Snowflower. Madame Lynx was based on Madame Egelichi, the femme fatale spy played by Ilona Massey in the Marx Brothers movie Love Happy (1949). The character stirred Caniff's imagination so much that he hired Ilona Massey personally to pose for him.[5] Besides casting Ilona Massey as Lynx, Caniff also patterned Pipper the Piper after John Kennedy and Miss Mizzzou after Marilyn Monroe[5]

The character of Charlie Vanilla (who would frequently appear with an ice cream cone in hand) was based on Caniff's longtime friend Charles Russhon, a former photographer and U.S. Air Force lieutenant who became a technical advisor on five James Bond films.[6]


Steve Canyon statue in Idaho Springs, Colorado

The strip was adapted into a filmed, half-hour television series of 34 episodes on NBC in 1958–59 (with reruns on ABC in 1960). Dean Fredericks (1924–1999), formerly the Hindu manservant on Johnny Weissmuller's 1955–1956 Jungle Jim series, played Canyon — a troubleshooter for the United States Air Force, spending half the season traveling from base to base before becoming the commanding officer stationed at the strip's fictitious Big Thunder Air Force Base in California. With the exception of General "Shanty" Towne (in the pilot episode), none of the other supporting characters from the newspaper strip appeared in the series.

A statue of Steve Canyon was erected in Idaho Springs, Colorado, and a nearby mountain canyon was renamed "Steve Canyon." Happy Easter was reportedly modeled after an eccentric who lived in nearby Central City. A mosaic of Steve Canyon's ward, Poteet Canyon, stands in front of the city fire station in the town of Poteet, Texas.

Canyon was featured in a series of novels published by Grosset & Dunlap in the 1950s. Harvey Comics reprinted the strip in a half-dozen 1948 comic books, and Dell Comics published seven issues of original stories (1954-59) by former Caniff assistant Ray Bailey (who had anticipated Steve Canyon with his own Bruce Gentry about a charter pilot). Steve Canyon was reprinted by The Menomonee Falls Gazette, Kitchen Sink Press and Comics Revue.[7]


Steve Canyon (1950)

Kitchen Sink Press published Steve Canyon Magazine for 21 issues, until replacing it with trade paperback collections using the same numbering:

  • Steve Canyon v.22 In Formosa's Dire Straits (1989, ISBN 0-87816-044-2, reprints Feb 8, 1955 to August 8, 1955)
  • Steve Canyon v.23 The Scarlet Princess (1989, reprints August 9, 1955 to April 11, 1956)
  • Steve Canyon v.24 Taps for 'Shanty' Town (1989, reprints April 12, 1956 to November 28, 1956)
  • Steve Canyon v.25 Damma Exile (1991, ISBN 0-87816-061-2, reprints Nov 29, 1956 to Sept 24, 1957)
  • Steve Canyon v.26 War Games (1992, ISBN 0-87816-066-3, reprints Sept 25, 1957 to April 7, 1958)

In 2006, Checker Book Publishing Group began releasing a year-by-year collection of Steve Canyon:

  • Steve Canyon: 1947 (ISBN 0-9710249-9-5)
  • Steve Canyon: 1948 (ISBN 0-9741664-1-3)
  • Steve Canyon: 1949 (ISBN 0-9710249-1-X, February 9, 1949 and February 18, 1950)
  • Steve Canyon: 1950 (ISBN 1-933160-51-9, reprints January 29 to October 7, 1950)
  • Steve Canyon: 1951 (ISBN 1-933160-10-1, reprints October 8, 1950 to Nov 14, 1951)
  • Steve Canyon: 1952 (ISBN 1-933160-55-1, reprints April 9, 1952 to May 14, 1953)
  • Steve Canyon: 1953 (ISBN 1-933160-57-8, reprints May 15, 1953 to August 5, 1954)
  • Steve Canyon: 1954 (ISBN 1-933160-23-3, reprints August 6, 1954 to August 8, 1955)
  • Steve Canyon: 1955 (ISBN 978-1-93316073-3, reprints August 9, 1955 to 1956; new format)


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